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Tuesday, Jan 25, 2011
There is something part Lego, part early MTV, part pillow fort, and part Saturday morning cartoon about the LittleBigPlanet games. Still, why communists?

Soviet iconography? In my LittleBigPlanet?


It’s more likely than you think.


I’ve been generally impressed with LittleBigPlanet 2 as at least a worthy successor of the original game, though I’ll withhold a full review for a later time and in the proper place. As with the first title, it’s a colorful bricolage of aesthetic and cultural reference points, always celebratory and never critical. It’s all about validating worldly curiosity, you see, from the perspective of unbiased childlike exploration, and in that way, it’s sort of magical. I’ve never seen grown men’s faces split into boyish grins as quickly as when I hand over control of these games to friends. Maybe it’s because we’re all children of the ‘80s, and there is something part Lego, part early MTV, part pillow fort, and part Saturday morning cartoon about these games, but nothing seems to get my fellow twenty-somethings nostalgic like a bit of well placed historical specificity.


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Tuesday, Jan 18, 2011
This week we put on our film studies hats again to talk about the representation of social media and network gaming in Mamoru Hosoda's most recent animated feature film, Summer Wars.

Being the nose-to-the-grindstone academic that I am, I admittedly had no idea what I was seeing when a colleague invited me out to see Mamoru Hosoda’s Summer Wars this past Friday. I really should have known: it’s only the latest award-winning release from Madhouse, the Japanese animation studio responsible for The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (also by Hosoda) and all of Satoshi Kon’s work up until his death. But I digress. The movie is offbeat and quite enjoyable, and I would highly recommend it to any gamers with a thing for anime. Or Facebook, for that matter.


The film is a bit of a tossed salad where plot is concerned, but the central storyline is one in which a young math geek and part-time code monkey, Keiji, seeks to prove himself to classmate Natsuki’s extended family, with whom he is staying over the summer. Events naturally coalesce to give him the opportunity, when a viral super-AI called Love Machine is unleashed onto the web, vandalizing sites and shutting down network hubs to affect everyone from the teenage txter to the communications of entire governments.


What especially impressed me about the film’s depiction of a global network is the enhanced state of media convergence implied to have occurred by the story’s start. There’s a dramatic, almost corny sequence where we get a montage of global network users connecting wirelessly by their phones or DSis, which makes me seriously question the heretofore under-advertised wi-fi strength of the average Nintendo portable. Beyond that, we also have the climactic scene i which Natsuki stands challenging the Love Machine AI with her entire extended family linked in behind her. We get a glimpse of a four-generation household all clutching their various electronic devices, from game handhelds to GPSes, all logged in with their various network avatars as they prepare to sacrifice them for Natsuki and the greater good.


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Tuesday, Jan 11, 2011
There are some unsettling implications once we factor the "bargaining" stage of grief into digital media.

There is a wonderful xkcd strip where one of Randall Munroe’s famous stick figures (in an effort to console his friend) compares a bad break-up to a video game: “Remember when Aeris died in FFVII? It was sad. But you had to keep playing.”


“Actually,” the friend counters, “I downloaded a mod to add her back to my party.”


Any player of a certain age can recount at least one friend who’s done this, as well as untold other acquaintances that were convinced there was some secret quest or hidden boss that would undo Aeris’s death. Even today, more than 13 years after the game’s release, there are players who keep the faith that there is some way to reverse fate and authorial intent to bring Aeris back. As Munroe’s comic jokes, there are some unsettling implications once we factor the “bargaining” stage of grief into digital media.


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Tuesday, Jan 4, 2011
The video guy (or girl) isn't attractive simply out of an immediate reflexive response to him but because of an ongoing and ever evolving coexistence shared with him.

I’ve always tended towards the idea that Avatar is about the plight of a gamer. The protagonist Sully, caught between a live action world and an animated one, directly experiences a generational and cultural divide that bears far more on the nature of what deserves to be called real (or meaningful) than just simply what happens to be moral at the time. The fact that James Cameron himself refers to the digital system of creating Pandora as “like a video game” only seems to enhance this view—as does my favorite scene in the film, in which Sully reaches out to his surrogate father, the Colonel, explaining the rite of manhood ritual he is undergoing for the Na’Vi tribe. Sully is greeted with a look akin to a father hearing that his son is going on about that damn World of Warcraft again; instead of validation or approval, Sully’s told that the whole thing is just absurd—and worthless.


It’s quite clear that we adore our fictional loves (be they in movies or in games). Avatar, if it is about anything above and beyond Cameron’s environmentalism and noble savage cliches, is most definitely about this romance with the virtual. It’s really no accident that in Cinema 2: The Time-Image Gilles Deleuze defines the “virtual image” as being the nature of the cliche: something represented instead of directly perceived, something that bears on our preconceptions about others before our sense of objectivity about them.


The power of the virtual image is the reason for women like The Matrix‘s Trinity, Tron: Legacy‘s Quorra, Avatar‘s Neytiri, Scott Pilgrim‘s Ramona, and all the other latter 20th and early 21st century “video girls,” reaching through the screen to gratify an abstract (usually male) fantasy in an extension of the titular Video Girl Ai of the early 1990s. It is the reason that in updating the Tron franchise, Disney eliminated the only “real” woman of the canon—Lora—and emphasized Olivia Wilde’s walking, talking, fighting, persistently adorable, virtual girl Quorra instead. She is better than real, you see. The Japanese posters in particular seem to make her grin like a live-action anime girl. Offered just a peripheral glance and you might mistake her for a hidden Final Fantasy XIII character, and why not? Virtual, like sex, sells.


Tagged as: bioware, dragon age
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Tuesday, Dec 14, 2010
Today we look at two themed independent titles that showcase two different facets of what we now call the art game: game as system and game as anti-system.

It’s been either a very affectionate or very cynical year in the field of independent games, with at least three single-named titles taking a spin with ol’ l’amour in 2010 alone.


My first review for this site back in July was on Alexander Ocias’s Loved, in which the past tense is used to signify guilt and manipulation of the player rather than the word’s more innocent connotations. Earlier in March, we saw the release of independent user-generated MMO Love from Eskil Steenberg, the painterly aesthetic of which much has been written. A final entry, unrelated to Steenberg’s, is the new flash game Love which has recently shown up on Kongregate from designer Contrebasse.


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